For Deb Bauer, there’s a fine art to making metal feel right at home in the spaces where we live.
The business has kicked some big goals in the past few years, with the founder being awarded a Lord Mayor’s Women in Business Grant in 2021 and subsequently joining the Deputy Mayor’s mission to South Korea where Bauer was able to strengthen her professional network and learn from her Korean counterparts.
But when it comes to Urban Metal, Bauer says the real power of the business is that its pieces have the primary aim of connecting people with the stories around them. It makes them more than just public art or architectural pieces – but a presence with a tale to tell.
“We are working constantly to connect people with space and place,” Bauer says.
“We actually started out as an importation business importing perforated metal as a complementary product to my father-in-law’s stainless steel mesh business.
“Shortly after we launched, we were approached by architects for decorative laser cut screens. And given that I’m an architectural artist I thought to myself, ‘Well, how hard can it be?’ And basically that’s how Urban Metal was started.”
Bauer says the mission to Seoul with the Deputy Lord Mayor and Bauer’s fellow Brisbane entrepreneurs helped her learn from the masters of connecting architecture and design with public places.
“The mission was probably life changing, I would have to say both personally and professionally,” she says.
“South Korea, particularly Seoul, has a philosophy of designing for citizens. So it was really reaffirming to be in a space where we could look at our business and then compare it to what they’re doing in South Korea and realise that what we are doing is actually on the right path.
“Seoul has been designed around the concept of caring for citizens, and it’s a twofold approach. It’s to do with livability and improving lifestyle, while at the same time revitalising the design industry. And they’ve done that exceptionally well.”
Bauer says the experience, which was made possible by her Women In Business grant win, has changed the way she thinks about her business.
“Undoubtedly it will help us improve the way we do business here in Brisbane,” she says.
“It was the networking, the opportunities with the other delegates from here in Brisbane, and being in the company of people who were really at the top of their game.
“It was really a great space to be in.”
Deeper connections on the home front
Bauer says Urban Metal has benefited greatly from being connected with her peers in Brisbane, but also from creating deeper relationships with Indigenous communities and learning from their connection to country.
It’s allowed the business to partner with them on a holistic level and deliver some real place-changing works.
“Two years ago, Urban Metal curated our first ever Australian First Peoples collection,” she says.
“From there we’ve taken huge leaps forward and we now find ourselves working with holistic communities, for example, on Palm Island, where we are working on our first community project to deliver public artwork, to connect people with space and place.
“We follow a really strict, legitimate and authentic process with any work that we do with Australian First People. And this involves working directly with the community, with elders and traditional owners, and also our partners at Creative Nations who are another female-owned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business.”
Bauer says a big part of Urban Metal’s upward trajectory recently has been because of the opportunity to be a mentee at the Brisbane Business Hub. She says it’s an experience any business owner should jump at.
“Being a Brisbane Business Hub mentee has been a phenomenal experience and I would highly recommend everyone get on board with their program,” she says.
“We have taken so much away from what they have on offer. We have had many sessions with different mentors for very specific reasons, from business financials to learning how to pitch in a corporate setting to having clarity around our brand.
“The mentors have been phenomenal.”
Bauer’s top tips for Brisbane business owners
Urban Metal hasn’t grown by accident. Bauer says it’s taken years of successes, failures and learning experiences to get on the right path. And she has some salient lessons for anyone on their own entrepreneurial path.
“Firstly, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You really need to be okay with the possibility of failing because I think that when we fail, even the small failures, that’s when we learn how to grow,” she says.
“Also make sure that you find your tribe, and that might be through trial and error. But once you find your tribe, these are the people who are going to offer you support. They’re going to be the ones who are cheering you on when you are kicking your goals.
“And thirdly, be curious and flexible in your thinking. You need to be able to challenge your ideas and understand that there’s more than one way of going about things. And I think for us, we’re really lucky that we do have all these mentors on hand who are actually going to help you challenge that thinking.”
Bauer also says that being located in Brisbane – with its focus on local business succeeding – has been a huge help.
“Being in Brisbane is the perfect place to be running a business. And I think part of the reason for this is it starts at the top,” she says.
“From the Lord Mayor down through the Brisbane Economic Development Agency down through to the Brisbane Business Hub, they’ve developed this culture where they just want everyone to win.
“So you could be a small micro business like we have here with Urban Metal, or you could be a large business and you get the same support. They really do want everyone to do well.”